LENGTH: 8,500 words
This story is included in the anthology, Love on the Rocks
My boyfriend and I go to the same college, and one of the things I enjoy most is sharing a room with him. Sharing a bed. I hoped living together would improve our relationship, which has grown rocky as of late.
But he’s the jealous type, and I always seem to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time. I don’t mean to provoke him; sometimes I just don’t think how my actions might hurt him.
Unfortunately, our roommate only sees us when we’re at our worst, so she thinks things are bad between us. When he’s angry enough at me to kick me out of bed and I have to sleep on the couch. When he snaps at me for flirting with her, even though he knows I don’t mean anything by it. She never sees how wonderful he is to me sometimes, or how perfect we can be together when we’re alone.
I hope her misplaced concern won’t come between us. Or maybe it’ll be my own stupidity that tears us apart.
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The two of us alone, finally, after a long day and an even longer night, but so far, he’s ignoring me. Where I sit on the bed we share, I nurse a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, practically choking it down, glancing over after every bite to see if he’s looking at me yet.
He isn’t talking, either. He seems so far away, so distant, lost in his own thoughts. Talk to me, I want to say, but he doesn’t. Anything for his words, his touch. Please?
After a long moment, I clear my throat and hold out the sandwich like a peace offering. “Do you want a bite?”
He shakes his head without looking up from the book in front of him. No words. What did I say to bring on this silent treatment? What did I do?
I don’t know. Hell, it doesn’t take much anymore, does it? And he won’t tell me, not until he’s ready. If I’m lucky, he’ll say something when we go to bed, and maybe I won’t have to sleep alone on the couch downstairs. If he tells me why he’s mad, maybe I can apologize and sleep with him tonight. If he gives me the chance.
Minutes stretch like taffy between us. I force down the last bite of my sandwich, holding onto the dim hope he’ll want it instead of me, but he doesn’t. I finish my glass of water and think about brushing my teeth. Peanut butter isn’t all that great a chaser for champagne. My mouth tastes sour and it’s getting late.
As if he realizes the time, he pushes his chair back from his desk and stretches. I watch him openly, waiting for his gaze to turn my way, but it doesn’t. He stands, pushes in the chair, and heads for the door.
I catch his hand before he can make it past the bed. “Wait.”
He shrugs me off. “Was it worth it?” he asks, his deep voice quiet. He always speaks so quietly when it’s just us.
I’m not sure what he means. “Come here,” I say, reaching out to hold him.
He pulls away. “Tonight. The girls.”
There it is. He’s mad at that. “Seriously? You know I’m not interested in them.”
He pulls off his T-shirt and balls it into a fist before tossing it aside. I start to reach for the bare expanse of his back, but I stop myself before my fingers touch him. I know better. I don’t want him to move away from me -- I don’t need that rejection, so blatant, so stinging.
“You had to shake up the bottles, didn’t you?” he asks as he unzips his jeans. “Had to get her tits wet, didn’t you?”
It isn’t just the girls, I know. It’s sneaking the booze on campus in the first place, and taking all the credit for the party, and hobnobbing with the chicks, and rubbing up against them, and ... who knows? Maybe I looked at someone a little funny. Maybe he thought I flirted with someone -- male, female, it doesn’t matter who. The point is I invited him to come along and in the end didn’t really spend time with him. Instead, I had to be the life of the party.
He kicks off his shoes and shucks down his pants, his back still to me. I feel a tiny, ignoble pout begin to tug at my mouth as I watch him undress. It’s like I’m not even here with him. As if I don’t exist.